Coronavirus At Smithfield Pork Plant The Untold Sory Of America’s Biggest Outbreak

48
971

Coronavirus At Smithfield Pork Plant The Untold Sory Of America’s Biggest Outbreak

How did the biggest cluster in the US emerge in a corner of South Dakota? Infections spread like wildfire through a pork factory and questions remain about what the company did to protect staff.

On the afternoon of 25 March, Julia sat down at her laptop and logged into a phony Facebook account. She’d opened it in middle school, to surreptitiously monitor boys she had crushes on. But now, many years later, it was about to serve a much more serious purpose.

“Can you please look into Smithfield,” she typed in a message to an account called Argus911, the Facebook-based tip line for the local newspaper, the Argus Leader. “They do have a positive [Covid-19] case and are planning to stay open.” By “Smithfield”, she was referring to the Smithfield Foods pork-processing plant located in her town of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The factory – a massive, eight-story white box perched on the banks of the Big Sioux River – is the ninth-largest hog-processing facility in the US. When running at full capacity, it processes 19,500 freshly-slaughtered hogs per day, slicing, grinding and smoking them into millions of pounds of bacon, hot dogs and spiral-cut hams. With 3,700 workers, it is also the fourth-largest employer in the city.

“Thank you for the tip,” the Argus911 account responded. “What job did the worker who tested positive have?”

“We are not exactly sure,” Julia wrote back.

“OK, thanks,” Argus911 replied. “We’ll be in touch.”

The next day, at 7:35am, the Argus Leader published the story on its website: “Smithfield Foods employee tests positive for coronavirus”. The reporter confirmed through a company spokeswoman that, indeed, an employee had tested positive, was in a 14-day quarantine, and that his or her work area and other common spaces had been “thoroughly sanitised”. But the plant, deemed part of a “critical infrastructure industry” by the Trump administration, would remain fully operational.

“Food is an essential part of all our lives, and our more than 40,000 US team members, thousands of American family farmers and our many other supply chain partners are a crucial part of our nation’s response to Covid-19,” Smithfield CEO Kenneth Sullivan said in an online video statement released 19 March to explain the decision to keep factories open. “We are taking the utmost precautions to ensure the health and well-being of our employees and consumers.”

But Julia was alarmed.

“There had been rumours there were cases even before that,” she recalled. “I heard about people getting hospitalised from Smithfield specifically. They only know from word of mouth.”

Julia does not work at the factory. She is a graduate student in her 20s, stuck back at home after her university shut in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Her parents, two long-time Smithfield employees with whom she is especially close, told her what was happening at the factory that day. She is just one of several adult children of factory workers – many the first-generation children of immigrants, some calling themselves Children of Smithfield – who have taken it upon themselves to speak out about the outbreak.

“My parents don’t know English. They can’t advocate for themselves,” said Julia. “Someone has to talk for them.”

Her family, like many others in Sioux Falls, did everything they could to avoid falling ill. Julia’s parents used up all their remaining vacation time to stay home. After work, they took off their shoes outside and headed straight into the shower. Julia bought them cloth headbands at Walmart to pull over their mouths and noses while on the line.

For Julia, alerting the media was just the next logical step in trying to keep them all healthy, by creating public pressure to close the plant down and keep her parents home. Instead, it marked the beginning of nearly three anxiety-filled weeks during which her mother and father continued to report to a factory they knew could be contaminated, to jobs they could not afford to lose. They stood side-by-side less than a foot away from their colleagues on production lines, they passed in and out of crowded locker rooms, walkways and cafeterias.

During that time, the number of confirmed cases among Smithfield employees slowly mounted, from 80 to 190 to 238.

By 15 April, when Smithfield finally closed under pressure from the South Dakota governor’s office, the plant had become the number one hotspot in the US, with a cluster of 644 confirmed cases among Smithfield employees and people who contracted it from them. In total, Smithfield-related infections account for 55% of the caseload in the state, which is far outpacing its far more populous Midwestern neighbour states in cases per capita. According to the New York Times, the Smithfield Foods case numbers have surpassed the USS Theodore Roosevelt naval ship and the Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois.

Those figures were released one day after the first Smithfield employee died in hospital.

“He got that virus there. He was very healthy before,” his wife, Angelita, told the BBC in Spanish. “My husband will not be the only one to die.”

Coronavirus At Smithfield Pork Plant The Untold Sory Of America’s Biggest Outbreak

The Smithfield pork plant, located in a Republican-led state that is one of five in the US that has not issued any kind of shelter-in-place order, has become a microcosm illustrating the socioeconomic disparities laid bare by the global pandemic. While many white-collar workers around the country are sheltering in place and working from home, food industry workers like the employees at Smithfield are deemed “essential” and must remain on the front lines.

Coronavirus At Smithfield Pork Plant The Untold Sory Of America’s Biggest Outbreak

“These jobs for essential workers are lower paying than the average job across America, in some cases by significant margins. So home health aides, cashiers – absolutely essential, on the front lines, have to physically report to work,” said Adie Tomer, a fellow at the Brookings Institute. “They are more predominantly African American or Hispanic than the overall working populations.”

https://www.bbc.com

The workforce at Smithfield is made up largely of immigrants and refugees from places like Myanmar, Ethiopia, Nepal, Congo and El Salvador. There are 80 different languages spoken in the plant. Estimates of the mean hourly wage range from $14-16 an hour. Those hours are long, the work is gruelling, and standing on a production line often means being less than a foot away from your co-workers on either side.

Gambling Addicts At Greater Risk During Lockdown

The BBC spoke to half a dozen current and former Smithfield employees who say that while they were afraid to continue going to work, deciding between employment and their health has been an impossible choice.

Coronavirus At Smithfield Pork Plant The Untold Sory Of America’s Biggest Outbreak

“I have a lot of bills. My baby’s coming soon – I have to work,” said one 25-year-old employee whose wife is eight months pregnant. “If I get a positive, I’m really worried I can’t save my wife.”

Food processing plants throughout the country are experiencing coronavirus outbreaks which have the potential to disrupt the country’s food supply chain. A JBS meatpacking plant in Colorado has shut after five deaths and 103 infections among its employees. Two workers at a Tyson Foods plant in Iowa also died, while 148 others were sickened.

The closure of a large meat processing facility like the one in Sioux Falls causes massive upstream disruption, stranding farmers without a place to sell their livestock. About 550 independent farms send their pigs to the Sioux Falls plant.

Coronavirus At Smithfield Pork Plant The Untold Sory Of America’s Biggest Outbreak

48 COMMENTS

  1. I?d have to get in touch with you below. Which is not something I normally do! I appreciate reviewing a blog post that will certainly make people believe. Additionally, many thanks for permitting me to comment!

  2. I really wanted to develop a simple note to express gratitude to you for all the splendid tips and hints you are giving out here. My time intensive internet lookup has at the end been rewarded with excellent ideas to write about with my partners. I would repeat that we readers are really fortunate to dwell in a notable place with so many outstanding professionals with valuable tricks. I feel very much privileged to have used the web site and look forward to really more fun times reading here. Thanks a lot again for everything.

  3. This is the ideal blog site for any individual who wishes to find out about this subject. You understand so much its almost tough to argue with you (not that I actually would want?HaHa). You most definitely put a brand-new spin on a topic thats been written about for years. Fantastic stuff, simply terrific!

  4. That is really interesting, You are a very skilled blogger. I have joined your rss feed and look forward to looking for more of your excellent post. Also, I’ve shared your site in my social networks!

  5. Thank you for sharing superb informations. Your site is so cool. I’m impressed by the details that you have on this site. It reveals how nicely you understand this subject. Bookmarked this website page, will come back for extra articles. You, my friend, ROCK! I found simply the information I already searched everywhere and just couldn’t come across. What a great web-site.

  6. I cherished as much as you will receive carried out right here. The caricature is attractive, your authored subject matter stylish. however, you command get got an nervousness over that you want be delivering the following. ill for sure come further before once more since precisely the same nearly very incessantly within case you protect this hike.

  7. Hi, Neat post. There is a problem with your web site in internet explorer, would test this… IE still is the market leader and a good portion of people will miss your great writing due to this problem.

  8. whoah this weblog is wonderful i really like studying your articles. Keep up the good paintings! You recognize, a lot of persons are searching around for this information, you can help them greatly.

  9. Hey there! I just wish to provide a massive thumbs up for the wonderful information you have below on this message. I will certainly be returning to your blog for more soon.

  10. Wonderful article. I find out something a lot more challenging on various blog sites everyday. It will certainly always be boosting to review material from various other writers and also practice a something from their store. I?d like to use some with the web content on my blog whether you don?t mind. Natually I?ll provide you a link on your web blog site. Many thanks for sharing.

  11. whoah this blog is fantastic i love studying your posts. Stay up the good paintings! You know, lots of individuals are hunting round for this info, you could aid them greatly.

  12. Get help to stop drinking. Helping women quit drinking alcohol. Coach Mary Wagstaff. Feel better, mind, body and soul. Mindfulness based coaching and alcohol recovery. Yoga for recovery.

  13. Hello would you mind stating which blog platform you’re working with? I’m planning to start my own blog in the near future but I’m having a tough time making a decision between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your design seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something completely unique. P.S Sorry for being off-topic but I had to ask!

  14. Thanks for sharing these wonderful blogposts. In addition, the optimal travel as well as medical insurance strategy can often eradicate those concerns that come with visiting abroad. The medical emergency can quickly become very costly and that’s certain to quickly impose a financial impediment on the family’s finances. Putting in place the suitable travel insurance offer prior to setting off is worth the time and effort. Thanks a lot

  15. I truly enjoy reading through on this site, it holds excellent content. “One should die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly.” by Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche.

  16. Thanks for your publication. I also think laptop computers have gotten more and more popular right now, and now are usually the only kind of computer utilized in a household. This is because at the same time actually becoming more and more inexpensive, their working power is growing to the point where these are as highly effective as desktop out of just a few years back.

  17. I and my pals ended up viewing the best pointers found on your web site while suddenly developed a horrible feeling I never thanked the website owner for those tips. All of the people were totally passionate to read all of them and have now surely been tapping into these things. We appreciate you indeed being well considerate and also for finding these kinds of excellent themes most people are really eager to understand about. My very own sincere regret for not saying thanks to earlier.

  18. Wonderful paintings! This is the kind of info that are meant to be shared across the net. Disgrace on search engines for no longer positioning this publish upper! Come on over and talk over with my website . Thank you =)

  19. Its such as you learn my mind! You appear to understand a lot about this, like you wrote the guide in it or something. I feel that you could do with a few percent to power the message home a little bit, however other than that, that is wonderful blog. An excellent read. I will certainly be back.

  20. Very interesting information!Perfect just what I was looking for! “I have a hundred times wished that one could resign life as an officer resigns a commission.” by Robert Burns.

  21. After study a few of the post on your site now, as well as I truly like your way of blog writing. I bookmarked it to my book mark website checklist and also will be checking back soon. Pls check out my web site too and also let me understand what you assume.

  22. A different issue is really that video gaming has become one of the all-time largest forms of fun for people of nearly every age. Kids have fun with video games, and adults do, too. The particular XBox 360 is among the favorite gaming systems for people who love to have hundreds of activities available to them, along with who like to play live with some others all over the world. Many thanks for sharing your notions.

  23. Oh my goodness! an incredible post dude. Thank you Nonetheless I am experiencing issue with ur rss. Don?t know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anybody obtaining identical rss problem? Anyone who knows kindly respond. Thnkx

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here